Proposed Ergonomics Guidelines Create Stress-Filled Debate

Article excerpt

Last summer, as I started in on a feature piece about ergonomics and repetitive stress injuries in the workplace, something odd began to happen to my hand.

My right index finger seemed to tingle at times. At first, I thought I was going nuts. But it wasn't just a fleeting sensation. It actually hurt a little bit, and it got worse as the work progressed.

Not much, really, but enough so that I was able to use it as an excuse not to help friends move furniture. After about two weeks of research and writing, I finally finished the story. Not long after the tingling stopped.

Now it is happening again as I track a bill moving through the House that would prevent the Occupational Safety and Health Administration from moving forward with its drive for a workplace ergonomics standard until the National Academy of Sciences completes a study on the matter.

It is also in my shoulder a little bit. I could use a back rub. I wonder if that is anywhere in the draft ergonomics proposal awaiting further action over at the Office of Management and Budget?

OSHA defines ergonomics as the science of adjusting the work environment to adapt to the physical limits of the human body. It wants to draft a broad standard for preventing repetitive stress injuries in everything from meat packing to article writing.

As of yesterday morning, hoards of business lobbyist were marching the halls of Congress, knocking on doors, cornering lawmakers and twisting arms in hopes winning passage of H.R. 987, "the Workplace Preservation Act."

Meanwhile, labor lobbyists were doing the same thing, stopping only briefly to check messages and return calls. Both sides expected the vote, tentatively set for last night, to be close.

While President Clinton has said he would veto H.R. 987 if it ever reaches his desk in present form, the business coalition hopes to attach similar language to a "must-pass" piece of legislation in the Senate, like the budget bill.

"This is a brutal battle," said Randel Johnson, vice president of labor policy for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. And this is only the latest round. …